DETROIT (Reuters) - Prosecutors told a Detroit jury on Thursday that a police officer’s willful negligence led to the 2010 shooting death of a sleeping 7-year-old girl during a raid - a case that has sparked concerns about use of police force.
In opening statements in the retrial of Joseph Weekley, who is accused of involuntary manslaughter and negligent use of a firearm in the death of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, his attorney said his gun went off when the child’s grandmother grabbed it.
“Mertilla Jones claims that this officer came in the house, walked up and assassinated (Aiyana),” defense attorney Steve Fishman said, referring to the grandmother. “That is a complete and total lie.”
On the day of the shooting, Weekley was part of a special response team that raided the Jones home in search of a suspect in the killing of a teenage boy.
The suspect, Chauncey Owens, was later found hiding in Aiyana’s building and Aiyana’s father, Charles Jones, was convicted of providing Owens with the murder weapon.
A bullet struck Aiyana in the head. The shooting stirred protests and tension in Detroit, heightening concerns about police brutality and use of excessive force.
Prosecutors told jurors during opening statements that Weekley’s gun could not have discharged accidentally.
“The gun cannot and will not fire without pulling the trigger,” said Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Moran. “This gun cannot go off by itself.”
Aiyana’s mother, Dominika Stanley, wept on Thursday while testifying about the night of her daughter’s death.
Stanley said she last saw her daughter when the little girl got up in the middle of the night to sleep with her grandmother, who was on the couch. Later, she heard Mertilla Jones screaming.
“She said, ‘They killed Aiyana,'” Stanley testified.
Stanley then had leave the courtroom to calm down and could be heard loudly sobbing in the hall.
Testimony will resume on Monday.
A reality show film crew accompanied police on the raid, which has led critics of the police to question whether the presence of cameras may have influenced events.
A jury failed to reach a verdict last year in Weekley’s case.
The retrial begins with heightened national scrutiny on police conduct after a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri, fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on Aug. 9, sparking a wave of protests.
After more than a decade of monitoring excessive force issues, the Detroit Police Department began transitioning out of federal oversight last month.
Reporting by Aaron Foley; Editing by Brendan O'Brien, Mary Wisniewski, Bill Trott and Sandra Maler